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I thought I would get John Dixwell’s key to Dover Castle framed for the book launch. At the moment, it still lives in a plastic produce bag from the Milton Food Mart, my father’s curious choice of wrapping for a key dating back to 1659.

I went to my local frame shop and spent a long time excitedly choosing the frame, the matte, and special museum-quality, non-glare glass. And I put down a deposit for the job. 

But the next morning I woke up feeling sad. Ever since Dad gave me the key, maybe 40 years ago, I’ve been able to pull it out of its plastic bag at random moments. I like to hold it in my hands, to touch its rough iron and think about my namesake. I had to call the frame shop and cancel the order. 

But now, how should I display the key at the launch? Surely it deserves better treatment than a plastic bag. Then I remembered my beautiful pencil boxes, given to me by various Korean students whom I helped with improving their English. The boxes are decorated with mother-of-pearl inlay. Here’s the more elaborate one.

The key fits inside perfectly, but I rejected that case because its lid lifts off completely. I wanted the lid to be attached. Here’s what I chose and here’s what the key looks like inside.


It’s fitting to bring to the key to my book launch in a case from Korea, because I may not have gone to England to research the Dixwell family if it weren’t for my Korean student Mijung Kim. She surprised me by volunteering to come along. She was the best of traveling companions.

So many people and adventures helped me complete my book, but it was going to England with Mijung that gave me the richest material. It pleases me to keep the key, already thousands of miles from the place where it was made, in a container from a country on the other side of our planet.


Posted on: June 2, 2022

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